Seemingly no sooner than it started, a breathless F1 season has flown by in a hurry and come to a conclusion. 

With the end of a challenging year in sight, we’ve taken a look back over some of the best storylines and moments that defined an unprecedented season for F1 that featured a compact calendar of 17 races squeezed together over the course of six months.

Here’s the first part of our top 10 moments that defined the 2020 F1 season…

COVID outbreak causes havoc 

The 2020 F1 season was plunged into chaos when the championship was forced to cancel the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at the 11th hour due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Official cancellation of the planned first race of the year came just hours after McLaren withdrew from the event ahead of Friday practice after one of its staff members contracted COVID-19. 

The disruption did not end in Melbourne, however, as the first 10 races of the 2020 season would end up being called off. 

Despite the difficult circumstances and huge uncertainty, F1 was able to organise and pull together a condensed 17-round season that began in July and ended in mid-December thanks to the introduction of strict protocols in the paddock and extensive COVID-19 testing. 

Pulling off such a calendar was a remarkable feat, with the FIA carrying out nearly 80,000 tests across the season, of which only 78 positive cases were returned.

Hulkenback 1.0 and 2.0 

One of the direct results of the coronavirus pandemic was that Nico Hulkenberg made an unlikely and unexpected comeback to the F1 grid having been dropped by Renault at the end of 2019. 

The 33-year-old German was drafted in as a substitute for Racing Point’s Sergio Perez for both Silverstone rounds when the Mexican became the first F1 driver to test positive for COVID-19. 

Hulkenberg instantly impressed by qualifying 13th for the British Grand Prix, though a technical issue prevented him from taking the start on Sunday. 

He was able to get a second bite of the cherry the following weekend at the 70th Anniversary GP and starred in qualifying by claiming a stunning third on the grid, before finishing seventh in the race. 

Hulkenberg was again called into action as a last-minute stand-in for Racing Point when Lance Stroll pulled out of the Eifel GP at the Nurburgring in October. 

Getting in the car just before qualifying, Hulkenberg was unable to replicate his Silverstone heroics as he ended up slowest of all. His fortunes improved on Sunday as Hulkenberg charged through the field to take eight and record his second points finish of the season. 

The out of contract Hulkenberg’s form even caught the attention of Red Bull and briefly sparked the F1 rumour mill into life that he could be a candidate for a drive with the team in 2021, a scenario which never materialised. 

Hulkenberg's return was a prime example of the uncertain times F1 faced throughout 2020.

Gasly’s Monza redemption 

Pierre Gasly capitalised on the mayhem at Monza to take a sensational upset win at a chaotic Italian Grand Prix in September. 

Two safety car periods and a penalty for early race leader Lewis Hamilton enabled Gasly to take the lead, and the Frenchman kept his cool under some intense late pressure from the charging McLaren of Carlos Sainz to claim his maiden career victory in stunning circumstances. 

Gasly produced one of F1’s feel-good moments of 2020 with a fairytale win that followed a turbulent, rollercoaster 18-month period in which he was demoted from the Red Bull senior team and lost his close friend, F2 driver Anthoine Hubert, who died in a crash at Spa in 2019. 

The 24-year-old’s emotional celebration and moment of reflection as he sat alone on the top step of the Monza podium collecting his thoughts provided one of the most poignant sporting pictures of the year. 

2020 marked a year of redemption for Gasly, who turned in an outstanding season with a number of impressive performances, a number of which were arguably stronger than his headline-grading victory drive.

It was a special moment for AlphaTauri too, with the Faenza outfit scoring just its second grand prix victory - with its first also coming on home soil at Monza with Sebastian Vettel back in 2008. 

Ricciardo’s shoey returns 

A brilliant drive at the Eifel GP in Germany saw Daniel Ricciardo finish third and return to the podium for the first time in more than two years. 

The result marked a big moment for Renault, with the French manufacturer recording its first top-three finish as a fully-fledged constructor since 2011.

Ricciardo spearheaded a much-improved Renault in 2020 as he played a key role in the team finishing fifth in the constructors’ championship, while he took the same position in the drivers’ standings. 

The Australian rose from P6 on the grid to seal third place behind Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, having successfully held off Racing Point’s late-charging Sergio Perez by just over a second at the chequered flag. 

Ricciardo’s first Renault podium meant team principal Cyril Abiteboul had to honour his side of the pair’s tattoo bet.

There was another rostrum appearance to come for Ricciardo in 2020, as he claimed third once more at Imola - and this time he remembered to do his shoey podium celebration, with Hamilton also getting in on the act. 

Hamilton rewrites history 

Having matched Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record in Germany, Hamilton went one better to break the famous benchmark with a commanding victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix.

In a thrilling first race to be held at Portimao, Hamilton had to battle back from a difficult start with his tyres not up to temperature in cool conditions and light rain falling to charge to victory, passing teammate Valtteri Bottas in the process and overcoming a late bout of cramp to triumph to a historic feat with one of the biggest winning margins of the season. 

"You are rewriting the history books," Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington told him over team radio. 

Schumacher’s former record had stood unchallenged for 19 years following the German’s last victory at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton admitted he could “never have dreamed of being where I am today” as he racked up his latest F1 win. The Briton would go on to end the 2020 season with 95 wins to his name, having already set a new record tally of 98 pole positions.

 

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